Thursday, December 17, 2009

"After Dark" by Haruki Murakami

This is an entry for the Japanese Reading Challenge. Haruki Murakami’s taken over the world or so it seems, because whenever I turn my head away from speculative fiction I hear only the best possible things about his works from both fellow book addicts and critical venues. He’s been highly recommended and his work’s been translated in god knows how many languages, I decided to test the waters and the first dip with the tip of my fingers was “After Dark”.


To be quite honest I found it hard to switch gears and read something so tranquil, muted in voice and in prose, after being submerged in speculative fiction for so long, where adventures spread with dangers, caped in great analogies, metaphors and comparisons. To read paragraph after paragraph about what sort of objects a room is fashioned with in a matter-of-fact manner was something that slowed my reading speed.

I’m a Coelho reader and I’ve gotten used to sparse prose that instead is rich in meaning, so it took little to adjust. If I dare say I think that Murakami is the Japanese answer to Coelho, the same way manga is the Japanese answer to comic books. Both authors have Spartan writing styles, but with every story told your soul gains a new nuance, which is very rare indeed.

“After Dark” follows several protagonists: how they spend their nights, why they’re awake, which illuminates their inner worlds and projects them to the readers without anything to hinder this. Mari Asai is a quiet girl, who wanders from establishment to establishment and reads her heavy book, not wanting to return home. Takahashi is a law student and trombone player, who is spending his last night playing in order to ground himself to reality. Kaoru is a former female pro-wrestler now a love hotel owner with kind heart and a strong sense for justice. Eri Asai, Mari’s sister, is sleeping, but is being watched by someone not quite from this world.

Ordinary, but diverse stories spin, complicate and reveal what can only the night hold as a stage for life’s machinations.

“After Dark” is quite the short novel, but that doesn’t stop it from being quite meaningful. It’s a novel about isolation, about people that are alone in one way or another and through their interaction I saw how the world is in fact such a small place, where everyone is connected to everybody else through different people. Complete strangers cross paths, but as readers we’re well informed that these people share cause-effect relations that shape their night. In this sense society is a breathing organism shaped by the interactions of people and the ripple the individual actions cause. You are alone, abandoned or a runaway from contact, from your life, and yet one decision made by you shifts the whole night for quite a few people.

What made this even more a pleasurable read was the flirtation with surrealism, the liquid transition from one narrative character to another, including the introduction of new narrators and the obvious voyeuristic touches. I have never been ordered by the author to become a presence and spy from above and different angles what happens in a novel. It was new and so pleasurable to be included directly into the story as a silent protagonist, who is nothing more than a voyeur. At first glance there is nothing that interesting happening. You’re just watching people live their lives, but just as eavesdropping swallows us in, being a silent shadow amidst someone else’s life and observing the intimacy that the darkest night can inspire is addicting.

“After Dark” certainly has made me become a Murakami reader and I mean what is there not to love. There are likeable characters, which peak your curiosity, meaningful prose and such a wonderful use for popular culture and music as a certain font, setting a mental soundtrack to further heighten the experience and also proving how erudite and how rich Murakami’s inner culture is.

Highly recommended.


Michelle said...

This is a great review. I read this book a while back, and loved it. So I'm glad you like it too.

You said "I have never been ordered by the author to become a presence and spy from above and different angles what happens in a novel", which was also what I found interesting. He's literally telling us that we are just a camera viewpoint floating in space.

I sat up a little straighter when I read that you think Murakami is the Japanese answer to Coelho, because I love Murakami (he's one of my favourites), and have been planning to read Coelho for a long time now. I have The Alchemist sitting on my shelf, so I'm getting excited.

Glad you found your first Murakami a good experience. I've read quite a few, and have yet to be disappointed. =)

Michelle @ su[shu]

Harry Markov said...

@ Michelle: The Alchimist is brilliant and I think that while the cultures between Coelho and Murakami have influenced their topics in a different paths, I still think that what they are doing has more touching points than not. It's just the overall vibe and atmosphere that they both exude with their work.

Hope you find your first Coelho as positive. It's one of his better works that one. :)

I just finished "Kafka on the Shore" and then I am on the Win-Up Bird Chronicles. :)

Carl V. said...

My experience with After Dark was certainly one of my favorite experiences with Murakami. I just loved watching the lives of the characters unfold. You do really feel like you are spying on people and out of that Murakami weaves this marvelous, touching story. I just loved it. Glad you had a good experience with it.

Harry Markov said...

I basically read it in almost one breath so it's definitely a WIN in my reading choices. Loved it for sure and Kafka on the Shore is even better.

Bellezza said...

I love how you started out with "a muted voice"; so apt for our Haruki! And this line: "with every story told your soul gains a new nuance, which is very rare indeed." is one of the reasons I read in general, and Murakami in particular. Often I don't completely understand him, and initially the surrealism was hard for me to wrap around (much harder for me, I'd imagine, than for you because you tend to read in the fantasy genre more than I). But, I've come to love him with all my heart. It's true that it's a bit hard to come to him after reading speculative fiction, but I find that the next book I pick up after him is so terribly trite. It's my goal to read all of his works, hopefully in 2010. The only one I don't own is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Plus, there's a new one he's written, but it hasn't been translated into English yet. I can hardly wait for it!

Harry Markov said...

I have no problem with surrealism, whatsoever, considering that I would like to write in it, one day, though it takes a very philosophical and sophisticated outlook to gain that depth and pull it off successfully.

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